The Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) has stormed the People’s Majlis and arrested Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim today after the Supreme Court stripped Azim and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed Nashiz of their parliamentary seats over decreed debt on Thursday (October 24).
The Parliamentary Privileges Committee, in a statement on Friday, said they do not accept the Supreme Court’s “politically motivated” verdict as it was issued in contravention of the Supreme Court’s procedures.
Lines of grey clad security officers with their arms intertwined blocked the main entrance to the Majlis this morning ahead of an extraordinary session scheduled to discuss interim arrangements should a president-elect not be determined at the end of the current presidential term on November 11.
The security officers refused to allow Azim entry as MDP MPs advocated in support of Azim. The MP for Malé signed the Majlis attendance roster despite the officers’ attempts to block him. Shortly afterwards at approximately 10:00 am, fifteen combat clad soldiers arrived at the Majlis, stormed the building, surrounded Azim and removed him from the Majlis premises.
In the ensuing scuffle, DRP MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed was pushed to the floor. The MNDF then turned Azim over to a waiting police can outside the Majlis gates. Government aligned MPs cheered the MNDF’s actions.
A statement released by the MNDF this morning read: “We have handed over Ali Azim to the Maldives Police Services after he assaulted security officers at the People’s Majlis and disobeyed officer’s orders. The Supreme Court has stripped Ali Azim of his seat.”
This morning’s statement contradicts a statement issued last night in which the MNDF said its role was to oversee security at the Majlis, not to determine who can enter its premises.
“The Maldives National Defense Forces are mandated with overseeing People’s Majlis security. It is People’s Majlis Speaker who decides those who can enter the building,” the statement said.
The parliamentary regulations also state the Majlis premises are controlled by the Majlis Speaker. Article 4 of parliamentary regulations read: “Unless otherwise explicitly stated in the Constitution or laws, the Majlis building, hall, the pathways and corridors leading to the hall within the Majlis premises and the Majlis courtyard is under the control and orders of the Majlis Speaker.”
According to MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, the Speaker had sent a letter to the MNDF stating that Azim can enter the Majlis, but had not been able to reach the Chief of Defense Forces following the letter.
The Parliamentary Privileges Committee, in its Friday statement, said that Azim and Nashiz’s parliamentary membership continues despite the Supreme Court ruling.
“The parliamentary privileges committee, at its 21st sitting, has decided that the Supreme Court’s stripping seats of MPs Ali Azim and Mohamed Nashiz is invalid and their seats are not vacant and their parliamentary membership continues,” the statement said.
The committee expressed concern over the verdict saying, “Hearings in the case were concluded over a year ago, but the case was fast tracked and a sentence was issued in absentia. This is a politically motivated act to obstruct the no-confidence motions scheduled against a cabinet minister.”
“We believe the ruling violates the Supreme Court’s procedures. One Supreme Court Justice had received the statements the day before and has asked for a delay until Monday to research the case and prepare an opinion. But he was not given the opportunity to do and the ruling was issued without his opinion,” the statement read.
The Supreme Court case was filed in November 2012 by Mohamed Haleem, a member of the Jumhooree Party’s (JP’s) legal committee. The last hearing of the case took place almost a year ago.
Haleem contended that the MPs should be removed from parliament following a Civil Court judgment in February 2010 involving non-payment of five credit facilities worth MVR117 million (US$9 million) issued to Funadoo Tuna Products by the Bank of Maldives (BML), for which the pair had signed as loan guarantors.
As the lower court judgment was subsequently upheld by the High Court, the Civil Court in 2012 authorised BML to seize the assets mortgaged for the loans, which included Funadoo island, a yacht, and the Reethi Beach Resort.
While the majority Supreme Court verdict held that mortgaged assets was not cause for disregarding a judgment to settle the debt, Chief Justice Faiz ruled that the guarantors would only have to bear responsibility if the debt could not be settled by selling the mortgaged assets.
Arrested for assault
Azim, MP for mid-Henveiru, joined the MDP from the government-aligned DRP in June this year.
Nashiz, MP for Raa Alifushi, is a half-brother of DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and husband of the party’s deputy leader MP Rozaina Adam. Following the annulled first round of the presidential election on September 7, the DRP decided to back MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed.
With the provisional support of 10 DRP MPs, the MDP had gained a majority of the 77-member parliament – the MDP had 34 seats.
The police have confirmed Azim’s arrest and said they are investigating an “individual for forcibly entering the Majlis premises, attacking officers and disobeying soldier’s orders” at the request of the MNDF.
Speaking to local broadcaster Raajje TV, Azim’s lawyer said the MP is being charged with assault and is currently being treated at the hospital for injuries sustained during his arrest.
The MDP has condemned Azim’s arrest and said “We condemn in the strongest terms, the security force’s attack on parliament members and attempt to dishonor the Majlis.”
The party has called on the Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz to launch an investigation immediately.
Meanwhile, the Majlis secretariat has announced it is hiring an independent Sergeant at Arms to oversee security of Majlis sittings and parliamentary committee hearings.
Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof told local media Azim assaulted PPM presidential candidate and MP Yameen Abdul Gayoom this morning.
Meanwhile, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor remains holed up at the Majlis after the Crminal Court ordered the Police to arrest Hamid and present him to court over refusal to provide a urine sample.